Botany database

The development of the Prairie Ethnobotany Database is an essential part of our work and allows us to build on the leads provided by Native Americans in their use of native plants of the region. This database has 922 unique species in it and allows us to determine the most important groups of plants that were used. It should not be surprising that the greatest numbers of plants used were for medicine and for food (Table 1).

Table 1. Ethnobotanical uses, by group, of all plants in our databases; numbers and percentages.

Use  Count  Percent
Medicine 800 37.31
Food 474 22.11
Animal medicine 134 6.25
Animal food 109 5.08
Fiber 137 6.39
Dye 83 3.87
Toys 60 2.8
Other 347 16.18
TOTAL 2144 100

This data was assembled from ethnobotanical and historical accounts of 251 tribes, with more data on plants whose ranges extend into Kansas and our region coming from the Navajo and Iroquois than Great Plains tribes (Table 2). This occurred because of the historical conflicts between tribes and the U.S. government.

Table 2.
Ten tribes having the largest number of plants for which ethnobotanical use has been recorded.
Tribe, count
Iroquois, 757
Cherokee, 731
Navajo (Ramah), 712
Meswaki, 292
Thompson, 287
Paiute, 274
Shoshoni, 262
Blackfoot, 257
Cheyenne, 249
Navajo (Kayenta)

There were many species with large numbers of uses (Table 3). Those species that had larger numbers of uses not only were more popular but also more likely to be efficacious. It is not surprising that white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) had the largest numbers of uses, as both of these species are well known as medicinal plants. Specific health problems most frequently encountered in the data included gastrointestinal problems and pain relief (Table 4).

Table 3. Ten plant species with the largest number of medicinal uses.
Plant, count
Artemisia ludoviciana (White sage), 63
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), 60
Acorus calamus (Calamus), 56
Rumex crispus (Curly dock), 55
Artemisia tridentata (Sagebrush), 54
Mentha arvensis (Wild mint), 49
Sambucus nigra (Black elderberry), 49
Cornus sericea (Red osier dogwood), 48
Plantago major (Common plantain), 46
Maianthemum racemosum (False lily of the valley), 45

Table 4. Specific number of species that were used for the following health problems.
Treatment, count
Gastrointestinal pain, 268
Relieve pain/anodyne/analgesic, 246
Gynecological aid, 199
Ceremonial medicine, 170
Pediatric aid, 164
Emetic, 159
Fever/febrifuge/antipyretic, 156
Sores/external inflammations, 150
Cough, 137
Wounds/cuts/scabs, 137
Eye problems, 132
Colds, 131
Panacea, 124
Venereal diseases, 122
Antidiarrheal, 118
Tonic, 114
Orthopedic aid, 103
Blood medicine, 94
Stimulant, 93
Antirheumatic (external), 89
Kidney problems, 89
Toothache, 89
Misc. disease remedy, 88
Disinfectant, 85
Urinary aid, 85
Pulmonary aid, 82
Swellings, 82

Among those plants that have been processed and have begun to undergo chemistry analysis, the most commonly cited as having traditional medicinal properties are listed in Table 5. The count reflects the number of medicinal uses, as well as the number of different Native American tribes that used that plant. Thus what is provided is a measure of medicinal potential. Table 6 shows the kinds of medicinal uses most often indicated, with pain relief as the most often recorded medicinal property of the plants processed thus far.

Table 5. Plants that have undergone chemistry analysis that have the most medicinal use references. The count indicates medicinal use, as well as use by many different tribes.
Plant, count, percent
Acorus calamus (Calamus), 456
Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle), 254
Artemisia ludoviciana (White sage), 169
Artemisia dracunculus (Wild tarragon), 77
Gutierrezia sarothrae (Broom snakeweed), 69
Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar), 66
Glycurrhiza lepidota (American licorice), 64
Conyza Canadensis (Canadian horseweed), 60

Table 6. Most commonly cited treatments indicated for the plants that have thus far undergone chemistry analysis.
Treatment, count
Relieve pain/anodyne/analgesic, 129
Colds, 106
Gastrointestinal aid, 106
Cough, 78
Antrheumatic (external), 63
Fever/febrifuge/antipyretic, 56
Pediatric aid, 51
Gynecological aid, 48
Toothache, 45
Eye problems, 34
Throat aid, 33
Orthopedic aid, 32
Wounds/cuts/scabs, 31
Diaphoretic/promote sweating/sudorific, 30
Diarrhea, 29
Stomachache/problems, biliousness, 29
Hair problems, 28
Sores/external inflammations, 28
Dermatological aid, 26
Respiratory aid, 26